6th May 2021

A third of Brits have tried a new outdoor activity since lockdown

Written by Jack Nicholl

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  • Walking, running, cycling and mountain biking most popular – but climbing, outdoor swimming, hiking and kayaking also rank on the list.
  • However, 15% are deterred by safety concerns.
  • Ahead of half term and further easing of lockdown restrictions, Plas y Brenin, the National Outdoor Centre, is calling on people to enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly.

Download a copy of the full report

The pandemic has inspired a new love of outdoor recreation as almost a third (32%) of Brits have tried an outdoor activity for the first time since the initial national lockdown in March 2020.

Walking was the most popular outdoor activity with almost 9 million Brits (or 17% of adults) trying it for the first time, followed by running (10%) and cycling (7%). Meanwhile 4% tried climbing and 3% outdoor swimming, according to research by the National Outdoor Centre, Plas y Brenin to coincide with the launch of its new campaign to encourage people to enjoy outdoor adventures safely and responsibly.

Of those who had taken part in outdoor activities before the pandemic, 15% say they are doing more now than before – with almost half of the nation (47%) taking long walks at least once a week. 6.3 million (or 12%) are cycling and 5.8 million (11%) are running at least once a week. Almost one in 10 (9%) say they have spent more on outdoor equipment and clothing as they want to be properly equipped.

For all the devastation caused by the pandemic, the stay home and stay local restrictions have given almost a quarter (24%) of people a new appreciation for the outdoors and nature. Far from a fleeting interest, almost a third (32%) of people plan to spend just as much time outdoors once restrictions ease.

While it’s encouraging to see more people realising the many benefits of the outdoors, 15% of Brits admit they are put off going outdoors due to concerns for their safety, while 13% say they don’t have the right equipment and one in 10 don’t think they have the right skills.

Almost 3.7 million people (7%) don’t venture out as they don’t want to be a burden to the emergency services. Added to this, uncertainty about where to go outdoors is also a major barrier for people as 13% worry about trespassing (13%), 12% don’t know where they have the right of way and one in 10 say they lack navigation skills and fear they’ll end up lost.

However, when it comes to everyday outdoor essentials, some Brits are getting caught out by a lack of basic preparation as 12% have been sunburned and 8% have run out of food or water while taking part in outdoor activities.

Ahead of the May bank holidays, school half term week and further easing of restrictions, Plas y Brenin, the National Outdoor Centre, is launching a campaign to encourage people to enjoy activities in the outdoors safely and responsibly.

Helen Barnard, Chief Instructor at Plas y Brenin, commented: “It’s great to see so many people trying outdoor activities for the first time and realising the many benefits they have on the mind, body and soul. However, we know there is a significant number of people who would like to participate but don’t feel equipped to – be it through a lack of confidence, skills or the right kit. None of these should be a barrier to getting started, especially when going outdoors locally.

“Some simple preparation before you head off means you won’t find yourself caught out. With a little planning and research, everyone can enjoy the benefits of the great outdoors in a way that suits their skills, abilities and interests while protecting it for generations to come.”

Natural England’s Chief Executive Marian Spain said: “There is a wealth of evidence to show beyond doubt that nature is good for our health. We have seen that demonstrated on a daily basis during the pandemic, with a resurgence in outdoor visits across the country, from urban parks to remote countryside. It’s great to see so many people trying new open air activities.”

Plas y Brenin has set out the following Outdoor AWARE tips:

  1. Appropriate clothing and equipment – make sure you have the tools, kit and clothing you need to stay safe and well during your adventure. Think about layers, waterproofs, footwear, head torch and batteries, map and compass. Take enough food and plenty of water. Make sure people know where you are going, take a mobile phone with plenty of battery life, a waterproof case and the contact number for the local emergency services and mountain rescue.
  2. Weather – always check the weather and pack for what you’re expecting and more. Take extra layers and waterproofs in case you experience freak weather or run into difficulty, and don’t forget sun protection.
  3. Ability – take into account the different abilities in your group and plan your adventure based on the lowest so that everyone stays safe and enjoys the day. Be conservative with your choice of venue and then build up as your skills and experience grows.
  4. Respect – observe non-access land by sticking to public rights of way. Brush up on your navigation skills. Ordnance Survey is a good place to start and there are many great apps available – but you can’t go too far wrong with a map. To really refine your skills, consider a skills course with an outdoor centre, such as Plas y Brenin – or seek help from a mountain professional.
  5. Environment – protect the environment by leaving no trace. Avoid BBQs or fires and take your litter home with you. Use public toilets where you can but if you must use nature’s bathroom, make sure you stay at least 30m away from water sources and paths, and bury solids at least 15-20cm deep without tissue or any other sanitary products.

More tips and advice can be found in our blog, AdventureSmart and Natural England and Natural Resources Wales who have recently updated the Countryside Code. With more people enjoying the outdoors than ever before, the code has been revised to help people enjoy countryside in a safe and respectful way. More information can be found here.

Download a copy of the full report here